Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 27, 2010


I set out for work yesterday and realized I’d forgotten my cell phone. Of course, it’s more than a cell phone; it does e-mail, web browsing, has a camera, blah blah blah. Yeah, ok, it’s a cell phone. For a moment, I felt bereft. What if there was an earthquake — the Big One — and The Counselor and I couldn’t connect with one another? What if my car plunged over a cliff and I was suspended in the top of a tree for three days with no way to alert anyone as to my whereabouts? What if “Jeopardy!” finally called?

I got a grip. If there were an earthquake, we already have a carefully thought-out plan about where we’d rendezvous, how we would get in contact, all that. Hmm, if only I could remember what it was. There are no cliffs or deep ravines on PCH or Hawthorne Blvd. Jeopardy? I’m out of practice.

It did make me think, as we all do occasionally, about life before cell phones. I don’t want to belabor this obvious point other than to take a Fogey Moment to beat the younger generation over the head in the standard “you don’t know how good you have it” mode.

Kids, you don’t know how good you have it. Back in the olde dayes, we’d have to sit on the steps of the school auditorium in driving hail, with thunder and lightning all around (typical Good Ol’ Days weather) until one of the parental units realized that one of the five children wasn’t home and then recall that, oh yes, he’s at football practice (or Scouts or choir or whatever) and drive the five miles into town (through a blinding snowstorm) to pick us up. Parents had it bad, too, because they couldn’t secretly enable the GPS finder on their kids’ cell phones because they didn’t exist yet and because they were always having to drive through blinding snowstorms to pick up kids at school and ball practice and choir, etc. without knowing exactly what time they should be there to get them.

Phonewise, dating was especially primitive in those times. Girls, of course, did not call boys. Period. And for those Young Gentlemen calling Young Ladies, there was typically only one phone per house, and those instruments were closely monitored by fathers who sat next to the phones as they oiled their shotguns in the evening, meaning that you’d better have your story down pretty well when you called, Mister. Just imagine the horror: “Oh, hello, Sir. It’s, uh, Geeko and I’m calling for Rapunzel, Sir.” Terror? Right.
College days finally arrived, and there were phones in our ivy-covered dorm rooms by the time I matriculated, so you could call up girls and talk to them for seventy hours straight or until the roommate rose up and defenestrated you, but once you left that dorm room to meet your hard-won date at the Anti-(Something) Rally you were adrift. Can’t spot her in the crowd? Hmmm … were you SURE you said “by the Old Admin Building?” Maybe she thought you said, “Outside your building?” That would mean a mad dash across a mile of ivy-covered campus to check. Or maybe she just flat stood you up and was out with the president of the Wealthy Good-Looking Privileged Students League. There was no way of knowing: no cell phone. No texting. Without any way of contacting her, it was either get up on the homemade stage and join The (Something) Movement, or go back to the dorm and make popcorn and watch the Elvis in Vegas special on TV.

Well, I had a girlfriend in college and I always tell people that she was really stacked — by which I meant, of course, that she spent all her time there, in the stacks in the library. She sometimes would agree that after she’d finished reading the rest of Shakespeare’s complete works, translated all of Don Quixote from Spanish and written a critique of Wallace Stevens’ The Palm at the End of the Mind, I could swing by the library and see her for a few minutes before it was time for her to analyze the works of the Impressionists from the point of view of post-Freudian psychology: a brainy lass, you know? Today, college kids would just send a text something like, “wich carel u in?” but, for me, it meant searching every one of the seventy-seven carrels on seven floors of the stacks to find her. (There was a legend that Jorge Luis Borges had used our library as the model for his story, “The Library of Babel,” and, although that’s certainly not true, the place did possess a certain labyrinthine quality.)

(BTW, that whole notion of the “study date” was charming in a kind of Hardy Boys Go to College/Ryan O’Neill-Ali McGraw Love Story sort of way, but it all fell apart if you were dating a girl who actually intended to study. Beware the brainy ones, me lads. They may be focused on becoming lawyers or doctors or Secretaries of State and you are, at best, on track to be untenured lecturers at some backwater college in the Middle South or, failing that, blues harmonica players in the disco era.)

The whole business I went through of having to make personal, direct contact in order to ask that Certain Someone out for coffee must seem like a ritual from the Stone Age today. And that’s not even to consider the time, a couple of years later, as I was hitchiking down I-75 from Ann Arbor, when I had no way of letting her know whether I would get to Columbus at 4 p.m. or 10 p.m. and feared that, again, she’d have reconnected with her old flame, the President of the WG-LPSL. I’d have given whatever money I had in the world at that time for one minute of cell phone time, had it existed.

If you had told any of us in those lost, distant days that there would be something like cell phones, we might’ve just sat down and wept for despair that we couldn’t have them. Heck, Chester Gould had to INVENT the wrist radio for Dick Tracy in order to have him zoom around in those little jets and stay in touch with his team, but he was decades ahead of reality.

So, I went back and got my cell phone.  All hell might break loose and I might have to call my lawyer. SHE studied in college and she’s really smart.



  1. I think one of the phrases in our ‘Dayes of Yore’ was “all this and brains, too?” Good catch!


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